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Activate the Beginner's Mind

Did you know that there is a way of experiencing your world as if it were the first time every day? Make that every moment of every day.

There is. It’s something you can start doing right now. It doesn’t cost anything and it has instant rewards.

What is it?

The Japanese practice of Shoshin, or The Beginner’s Mind.

This ancient practice has been shown to help people wind down and truly enjoy what life has to offer. To literally live in the moment. To experience life as it unfolds from second to second. To expand your consciousness and enrich your mind, body and spirit.

What is Beginner’s Mind?

Beginner’s Mind is just as it sounds - approaching something as if you were an absolute beginner. Shed all of your preconceived notions, consider all the options and let yourself experience something like a child.

Everything becomes something new, something fascinating with endless possibilities.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki

When we become an “expert” our minds tend to constrict around that subject and instead of seeking-out new information to expand upon, we tend to cherry-pick information that validates our current position.

Employing the Beginner’s Mind helps us to rediscover and explore things we think we understand completely.

Of course it’s challenging to apply this technique to every aspect of your life. For example, if you are expected to know certain things in your profession and approach that area as if you’ve never experienced it before, there might be negative consequences.

That said, when you are alone and don’t need to “perform” or demonstrate your knowledge, take a step back and look at that area with fresh eyes.

Be Open

According to life coach James Clear, “Most people don’t want new information, they want validating information.”

Eliminating the need for this “validating information” is key to allowing ourselves to approach situations or things which are very familiar to us with an openness. Not only will the experience feel fresh, new information can also come to us.

When we only seek out validation, it is like entering an echo chamber where only your thoughts, feelings and experiences are the one’s that matter. This creates an immediate block to receiving, or experiencing anything new.

The Beginner’s Mind clears away that need and opens the path for new possibilities, new perspectives, and new information - especially when you think you know best.

Assume Nothing

Making assumptions is part of human nature. We do it all the time, about pretty much everything and everyone. By blocking the “assumption button” and encountering things, situations or people without any preconceived notions or judgement can help us to gain a new perspective and level of appreciation.

Dismiss the Expert

Approach a topic, even if you already know a lot about it, as if it was the first time. This will allow you to experience it with a fresh perspective, and give you the chance to explore all of the different angles and possibilities.

Question Everything

By asking questions, instead of giving the answers, about any given topic or experience, you can constantly open up new possibilities. For example, when you walk through a park or your garden, instead of automatically seeing a flower and identifying it by name, ask yourself what it is. Carefully look at it, observe every aspect of the color, the petals, the stem, the leaves, the scent. It shouldn’t be too difficult since each flower, and hence each part of a flower, is a unique masterpiece.

You can do the same with autumn leaves and trees and grass…

This approach goes for everything you experience through your day. When you look in the mirror, observe the color of your hair, the shape of your eyes, the curvature of your lips. Do the same when you see a loved one, be they human or animal. In this way you will enjoy the encounter and appreciate them like you never have before.

Clear the Clutter

Our minds are relentlessly bombarded with information and forced to process constantly. It can be overwhelming, and oftentimes is. The Beginner’s Mind lets you wipe the slate clean, and encounter the stimuli individually as opposed to a chaotic mess. Each piece of data can be observed, sorted and processed with ease when the clutter is cleared away.

Personal Observations

I am a new practitioner, an initiate if you will. But even in this short period of time I have come to really appreciate the profound effect of approaching life with the Beginner’s Mind can have.

Looking at the “ho-hum” objects in my apartment, for example, with new eyes has helped me to truly appreciate the things I have. It has made everything appear vibrant and alive, and vibrate with new sounds.

For example, the tines of a metal fork glimmer brighter than they ever have before. Paying close attention to the way my fingers clasp the fork and my wrist bends when I pick up a piece of cake has made me hyper aware of how each part of my hand works in concert for this one action. Then there is the soft crumbly buttery depths of the cake itself. Every bite offers a rich taste sensation. 

Door frames have suddenly become more than a structural necessity and more like an engineering marvel. Even the feel of toilet paper (yes! toilet paper) against my skin has taken on a new dimension.

The creaking of the floorboards never sounded so interesting, so alive. The way my cat, LuLu, squawks and meows and purrs is more thrilling than ever. Her ability to communicate has never seemed to be more profound. 

The water rushing from the tap into a pot resounds through my mind. The distinct click-clicking of the gas range as it ignites. Poof! The hypnotic blue-green-yellow-orange flecking flame suddenly appears like magic.

The knob of the faucet feels incredibly solid against my hand as I turn it on. The  cool, clear water seems to glisten as it pours into a metal kettle. The alchemy that causes the water to simmer, sizzle and roil on the stove is amazing to witness. Wow - what an amazing sound! The steam feels refreshing against my skin as I pour the water slowly into my cup of green tea. A strange, earthy, pungent scent rises and tickles my nostrils.

Getting dressed has also taken on a new, exciting dimension. Selecting the clothes, touching the fabric, really seeing how the color of my shirt combines with my pants. Then choosing a beautiful pair of shoes to pair with my outfit is no longer routine or something I have to do, it has become something of an adventure of discovery.

These are only small examples of what I have been experiencing through the Beginner’s Mind over the last 30 days; it’s almost like being on a psychotropic drug without having taken anything at all.

Open Your Beginner’s Mind

Start slowly by truly opening your senses, your mind, your heart and your spirit.

This practice takes practice. And patience. The elimination of judgement is essential.

Don’t rush. Don’t give up.

In addition to the examples already given, try these exercises:

1. Mediate On It 

Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

Close your eyes and concentrate on the space between your eyes, just above the bridge of your nose.

Breathe in slowly through your nostril for four seconds. Hold for for four. Exhale through your nose counting to four. And repeat four times. Really key in with each step, feeling the sensation of the breath as it enters your nostrils, what it feels like to hold and release.

As you relax, get in touch with each part of your body, starting with your toes and feet, up your legs and thighs, through your pelvis, into your internal organs and spine, your heart and into your throat mouth, sinuses and brain. As your energy travels through each area pay very close attention to any sensations that arise.

Repeat the breathing routine. Then, open your eyes slowly and see the space you’re in as if it were for the very first time. Because it really is.

2. Be the Orange

Pickup an orange and hold it in your hand.

Observe it’s shape, what does it feel like?

Enjoy the vibrant color.

Smell the surface, and let the sensations of the citric oil enter your nostrils.

Peel the skin with either your fingers or slice the fruit with a knife.

Enjoy what comes next…

3. Start at the Beginning 

Scroll up to the beginning of this article and look at the first sentence. Examine every letter, the way it is shaped, the space between it and the next one, the sound of it in your mouth. Move on to the next letter and repeat until you have done the same with each letter in the word. Then, put them all together to slowly sound out the word.

I hope you find these observations and tips helpful. Please leave a comment below and let me know how you activate your Beginner’s Mind.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
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